One of the biggest issues driving the Republican primary in the 11th District is Pat Herrity’s voting record on taxes, and for good reason. Supporting tax increases is usually problematic for any Republican; in the current environment, it can practically be the kiss of death. Naturally, as soon as Fimian supporter Mason Conservative raised the issue, Herrity supporters are insisting that his vote to raise the tax rate was not a vote to raise taxes, because assessments on property had fallen. Herrity’s mantra is, essentially, that average homeowners were largely spared a tax hike, so therefore, he is not a tax-hiker. For the most part, Fimian backers call it all balderdash.
The reality is more complicated – and yet at the same time simpler – than either side is conveying.
As a former candidate for County Board of Supervisors myself (Spotsylvania, 2009), I have some knowledge of what is and is not considered a tax increase. What matters in years where new assessments are taken (every two years in Spotsylvania, every year in Fairfax) is the equalization rate, i.e., the rate at which the change in assessment is matched by an equal and opposite change in the rate.
For example, this year in Spotsylvania, property values fell by more than 20%. So while the old rate was 62 cents per $100, the equalization rate was at the much higher 83 cents. That was the rate where local government was essentially getting the same amount of money from taxpayers that it got last year (of course, that wasn’t enough for my Board. Let by my victorious opponent, they raised the rate to 86 cents – a tax increase by any definition).
The problem with Fairfax’s way of calculating the tax effect of their rates is that they focus on residential property (homes), not all property. Since commercial, office, and industrial property usually hold their value better the residences, ignoring them in your calculation can lead to a rate above actual equalization (in plain English, when a local politician says the average homeowner won’t pay more taxes, he’s raising taxes on businesses, hoping you don’t notice).
So in order to figure out the tax effect of the now-famous 2009 Fairfax rate rise from 92 cents to $1.04, we need to calculate the actual equalization rate for that year. As it turns out, Page 8 of the Fairfax General Fund Overview gives us the overall property value reduction. Plug that in to the equalization calculation method (seen here on page “67″), and one finds an equalization rate of . . . $1.04.
In other words, Pat Herrity’s vote was for the equalization rate, and thus, in and of itself, was not a tax increase.
That’s the good news for Herrity. Here’s the bad news: he cast other tax votes that can’t be explained away so easily.
In fact, mere minutes after he voted for the equalized tax rate, a new tax of one cent per $100 – for a newly created stormwater service district that included the entire county except for Fort Belvoir – came up for a vote. In effect, this was a vote to increase the rate from $1.04 to $1.05. This tax increase was passed 10-0, and Pat Herrity was one of the ten (see the bottom of Page 5 of the minutes).
As if that wasn’t bad enough, exactly 52 weeks before this, when the FY09 budget was being discussed, a new tax of 11 cents per $100 was imposed “on commercial and industrial property for transportation purposes” (4/28/08 minutes, page 5). Once again, because homeowners were not mentioned, this didn’t get the attention it should, but a tax increase is a tax increase. Once again, this tax hike passed 10-0 (page 6), among the “ayes” were two candidates for the 11th District seat in 2010: Gerry Connolly and Pat Herrity.
That’s not company I would keep.
So, to sum up . . .
Did Pat Herrity raise taxes when he voted to move the rate from 92 cents to $1.04? No.
That aside, has Pat Herrity raised taxes? You bet your a** he has.
Therefore, for whom should low-tax, limited-government conservatives in the 11th District vote on June 8 and November 2? Keith Fimian.
Cross-posted to Bearing Drift